Most of us have some shape or form of shopping anxiety. If you’ve ever dreaded shopping for new jeans because they no longer make your model, you know what we mean.

Looking at our own industry, it certainly seems clients have the same issue. They’re not going to waste time and money on something that doesn’t make THEM look GREAT!

You are going to spend a lot of time with your creatives. They will have to take time to know you and your product. They all have their niche of expertise, a purpose to fulfill on the market and a price tag attached. This article brings clarity into the creative industry so that you find the perfect fit for your project.

1. Don’t look for EVERYTHING in one place

The all-knowing team doesn’t exist. Don’t feel disappointed if your agency doesn’t cover all of your communication. The food in your fridge comes from different farms across the world, doesn’t it? It’s probably the same with all sophisticated industries. 

Communication is much too intricate for any of us to master it all. The channels we have at our disposal are so entirely different, we HAD to specialize. Yes, even the largest full-service agencies outsource up to 40% of their work to smaller agencies, studios and specialized freelancers. 

Depending on the project stage and your needs this quarter, there might be a different team best prescribed for the task. Think about where you are right now and what your next step is, and look for someone specialized. 

Here is a flowchart to help you map out the industry. When you don’t know where you’re headed, speak to a veteran agency or hire a marketing manager in-house. They will be more than capable of planning and will set you on a straight path.

How to choose your agency flowchart. Click & zoom for a better view.

2. Look at portfolios. Always. 

Clients love portfolios with spectacular brands: the big bank, the app on one million phones, the Coca-Cola of laundry detergents. And we get it. But here's how you can pay more attention to portfolios:

  • Look for clients the same size as you are. If everyone in their portfolio is much bigger, consider not only the price quote you are up for. Ask yourself whether you will be treated like a star client.
  • Small agencies can handle medium clients and medium agencies can handle large clients. Try a size smaller and you might find not only that it fits, but also that you get their platinum treatment. 
  • Keep in mind that an agency with some experience behind them will have less than 10% of their portfolio online. We all list the projects we loved, that we’re proud of, the type of clients we want to attract. Make sure your agency is in the competition for clients just like yourself. 

3. Listen to gossip

Gossip is what society is built on. Yes, it’s quite important to know who the village drunk is and which family owns four watches on their own. The village gossip must have saved quite a few people from matching some unfortunate marriages. 

There is plenty of good digital gossip happening in the review section of products online. In the creative industry, you can check reviews on:

These websites combined are the Amazon of B2B. They will give you the broadest idea of who does what and how well. 

The thumb rule is to look at the 2, 3 and 4 stars reviews to predict how well a product or service is bound to work. While emotional people give 1 and 5 stars easily, you will find some amazingly thought-out reviews in the middle. All entrepreneurs should listen to their own 2, 3 and 4-stars clients. These highly analytical consumers help businesses patch their holes early on. 

Of course, we wouldn’t know, since we have an average of 4.9 on our reviews. In theory though, if we did have mediocre reviews, that’s what you should look at first. 

4. Understand and be a part of the process

Your campaign and deliverables are all part of a larger, structured strategy of “first this, then that”. 

Your agency should be able to explain why they made their creative choices. While we might be creative people, your market is not precisely a museum (unless it literally is one). 

Your marketing plan should go well beyond “we create beautiful campaigns”. Their process should look a lot like an attack strategy, and that’s what we call “aggressive marketing”. 

While every agency has its own creative process, there are plenty of standards that we all share. We all go through a very Sun-Tzu process of understanding your customer, your market and your product. Early meetings with the agency should go through that process. Before even starting to draw the first lines and type the first words, there are market insights. They stand behind every creative decision we make. 

The logo is taupe and velvet for a reason, and that’s not because they’re the favorite colors of your designer. It’s because you’re addressing an older gentleman who cannot read without glasses and you want contrast that doesn’t give him anxiety. That’s what process does for you. 

5. Meet more than one person on the team

The first lesson in communication that kids get is the game telephone (or whatever variation of it you probably played). You stand in a line, whisper something in someone’s ear and they have to whisper it forward. The longer the chain, the more distorted the message becomes. Invariably it starts with chicken and ends up with your cousin doing a burp in E flat. 

We work in communication. We know how to keep the chain of communication with you as short as possible. You will talk to design when we design, to copy when we write copy and to sound design because… well he’s a cool guy. The CEO will sell you an entire team, so you might as well meet them early on. 

Here is where the magic happens. I don’t want to tell YOU about love at first sight, because I’m sure you had at least one dream car. That’s the feeling you should have. The motor of this agency should absolutely purr. You should feel that you can drive it comfortably and get home safely with these people. 

There are no tips and tricks on this one, just let your heart drive you. 

6. Taste the champagne!

I know first-hand the market is heart-driven. Clients make emotional decisions,  with very few exceptions. Unless one product strives to be memorably bad, they are most likely to choose a label. John will NOT open 20 champagne bottles, compare bubble consistency and decide which one to order based on lab results. 

I can’t tell you what champagne is the best and which car drives the smoothest. I can tell you what are some red and green flags in our own industry. While everyone fills their shopping cart based on a label, I want you to choose YOUR creative agency based on a GREAT fit. 

Don’t look at the label, taste the champagne!

How to choose the perfect creative agency for your project. The cheat sheet for the team that checks all the boxes.